Jenny sipped her sherry-oak Macallan. She’d got the taste for it while studying in v-London, and sacrificing hunger for liquid meditation. Jenny’s academic funding came from her earlier career as an accountant, and from her father, who was a virtual lawyer in v-New York. She’d returned to university as a mature student with a taste for mature whisky.
While in v-London, keeping on task had been difficult. The collision of a pijama-based cyberlife, an overflowing bank account, and next-hour drone delivery of alcohol, had almost been too much to handle. Many times during the three years Jenny had wavered, she said, leaning toward a disengaging retreat back home, and ten back to the MBA in v-London, and the status and wealth it promised.
The night she left Simon had been the worst and best of her time studying, as splits often are.
From a slow build involving light-barrier lunches and socially-distanced walks, Simon had quickly begun to take over the running of Jenny’s life. He changed her wardrobe, encouraging brevity and extinguishing wool. He'd repainted the room she slept in using the Roomovator app, describing, in terms he felt she could understand, how orange activated his sex chakra and blue simply did not. He developed a list of foods for her that would help ‘them’ fight the virus, stave-off mid-evening cravings for chocolate, and strengthen their resolve to get through the remaining year of study. He had even made a list of spices to be used in certain quantities in the foods ‘they’ prepared, explaining the values of each and the signs to look for if the spice was non-synergistic with her digestive system.
While Jenny had always strived to live well, and saw merit in changing things to improve one's time in pandemicity, she had begun to think of Simon as a dictator, and often worked in dark-mode to avoid contact.
The final straw for Jenny was, she said, the fetish party.
Simon had arranged everything, her clothes, her hair style, her shoes and nail polish color, and the choice of the Oculus X-RAYtd headset to suit the night’s experience.
“We’ll make sure we remember this night forever,” he had told her, and it had annoyed her terribly, though she couldn't put her finger on why.
When she swung her legs sideways to get out of the taxi, a photographer caught her movement on film, and she heard Simon speaking those words. When Jenny kissed a woman called Lucy and a man called Tom, passionately and deeply, a camera flashed near her face. When Jenny danced on stage, bending and stretching provocatively to show off her body in the smoothness of the latex pants Simon had chosen for her, his words accompanied more camera clicks.
Jenny ordered another whisky, and I followed suit, and she continued with her story.
As the night at the fetish club was ending, the photographer and Simon asked Jenny to wait for them to disengage, while they talked to a girl they’d met whose eyes were a deep purple. Jenny sat at the bar on her own, feeling the numbness of passive abuse, and holding the photographer's camera. She suddenly felt very aware of her outfit, the latex pants and top, the high-heeled chunky shoes with the blue buckles and open toes, and she didn’t dislike them. She managed to feel both excited and devastated in the same moment.
Simon and the photographer returned. “There’s a place she knows where all kinds of stuff is happening. Let’s transfer over there now.”
Jenny handed the camera over and said no, she’d be disengaging. She wanted to go to the party or whatever it was, but she didn’t want to be with Simon any more. She buzzed away instantly.
That was the last time she saw him, she told me. She removed his paint choices from the room filter, packed up the clothes in a box, and removed all of his lists and calendar updates from her screen.
Seven years later, as Jenny worked in v-Austin late one evening, an ad for the Oculus X-RAYtd ‘Memory-Keeper’ update crossed her tickertape under the spreadsheet she’d been staring at for hours. She suddenly recalled that night at the fetish club and how Simon had told her “We’ll make sure we remember this night forever.”
Rather than return to the Excel of death, as she called it, she searched for that night on Google images, and began scrolling through. At first, she said, nothing seemed familiar. Second page. Nothing. Third, Nothing, nothing. And then, there it was. The photographer’s photos. Jenny, kneeling, kissing Lucy, Tom behind Lucy, all of them half naked, and lost in the moment. Jenny, breathless, scrolled through many more shots of her and Lucy and Tom, and other people, and her on stage, dancing.
It was the oddest moment, Jenny recalled. She didn’t know whether to laugh at the adventure, or be shocked at her behavior, or disgusted with Simon for organizing a photographer. Nothing could be done, of course, as the photos were anonymously posted, had been there for a while anyway, she assumed. She clicked into one that had messages attached, dreading reading what people may have said about her.
“Wow, love that phot. Good people and clothing choice. O X-RAYtd cant be beat,” signed JJ, v-Calif. Two years or so ago.
“Salleee. Doin what tyou love, girl. Come e-visit me.” Katy C, v-NC. Last year.
“Hi, whoever you are, you are cool. Love your energy and those clothes! Love to see more of your wardrobe. If you’re ever in v-Austin, maybe a glass of whisky?” GregR181@thundermail.com. Last week.
She said she typed a reply to GregR181, telling him how she didn’t wear those kinds of clothes anymore, and didn’t do those things either. Except then she thought maybe he meant he wanted to see her in something else. Something more normal. She deleted and typed back that she had only done that that night because of her boyfriend. But that wasn’t entirely true, she had enjoyed it, for the most part, other than him. She didn’t need to not own her excitement. She scrapped that reply, and wrote a new one.
“Hi, Greg (?). I’m here in v-Austin too. If you’re around, sure, let's have a glass of whisky.”
Eight days later Greg emailed back. Jenny read his reply and felt she knew him. He talked of her outfit and how it turned him on, and she was flattered. He spoke of his need for intimacy, and how this new panquarantine reality wasn't real life at all. He wrote of his past failed relationships, which proved vastly unequal and awfully depressing, and she related completely. He wrote how he would gladly brave the Suppression Core and the Panthera Patrol, and all the other do-good vigilantes, for one night of craziness and connection.
And, Jenny said, she agreed.
It was a stormy night, and all through she could hear the noise of the patrol and their robotic hellcats, the screams and shouts of the Scapers, and the continual sirens. She could feel the wind howling through the empty streets, and through the dying branches of the few remaining trees. The sounds around them hid their gasps and moans, and she delighted in feeling his cold, strong hands all over her body, his desperate kisses, and the closeness of another human. Some moments were blindingly, unforgivingly clear, others, she said, drifted away like the sand on the long-deserted beaches. She felt vulnerable, she felt frightened. And she felt bad, dirty, even damned. But most of all, she felt alive.
Jenny sat silent for a moment, as she remembered the one night she escaped the panquarantine. “It was a real night,” she finally said, smiling at her own bravery. A night she’d never forget.
Our evening was over now, and Jenny had told me the story. Neither of us could drink any more whisky. She smiled, we shook hands, she kissed me on the cheek, and we disengaged.
Jenny lived her life in snapshots.